12/29/2007 04:12 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Moral Downsizing

This morning's announcement, by Pakistani officials, that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto died from a skull fracture when falling against the wall of her sports utility vehicle, during yesterday's rally, and not from bullets from a gun that was aimed directly at her, or shrapnel from a suicide bomb, is yet another example of what a fine role model we, in the U.S., are for the rest of the world in how to cover up an assassination.

It might not come as a shock if one were to find out that a surviving member of the Warren Commission flew to Islamabad to coach them on how to pull off a coup d'etat, and keep the monied interests in place, while trying to appear transparent. That said, even the greatest ingenue would be hard pressed to believe that anything but gunfire killed Mrs. Bhutto, with bullets provided courtesy of the U.S. government.

And, as if to add insult to injury, comes the report that it was a phone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who, two months ago, persuaded Bhutto to fulfill her destiny, and return from London to her homeland. According to an article in today's Washington Post, the State Department had a plan for the January elections in Pakistan which was to have Bhutto join forces with Musharraf as prime minister to his presidency, thereby providing "a democratic facade" to Musharraf's government.

The issue isn't whether by playing puppet master, and meddling in the domestic affairs of sovereign states, the U.S. cost Benazir Bhutto her life. Even if Mrs. Bhutto had magically survived this attack as she did the last one, and went on to join forces with Musharraf, as planned, after next month's election, what right does any state have to control the internal operations of another. Isn't this what Woodrow Wilson warned against when he formed the League of Nations back in 1918 -- keeping the Germans, or any other rogue state from running amok, and consuming other nations? President Wilson would be stunned if he were to suddenly awake, in the year 2007, to find America has become the country about which he warned so vigorously.

Since the Nixon years, we have gone from moral ambiguity to moral lethargy, and are now in moral quicksand. Those who brought us the "Contract for America," the Dan Quayles, Oliver Norths, Newt Gingriches, whose family values have translated into congressional page scandals, the rapes of Blackwater, have ruptured the body politic in the name of Rapture, and ransacked the American dream like an abandoned house of worship.

This assassination, like others before it, has shown us how quickly hypocrisy reproduces. It's never only a gun, or a bomb, that claims the life of one whose presence has changed the course of history. It's the calculated illusion that making substantive change is ever only an individual thing, or that the spectator to tragedy is not himself a part of the social, and moral pathology from which it evolved.

But, what right does a citizen of a country that makes stealth agreements to fly suspects to secret holding cells over international airspace have to talk about moral high ground? Moral high ground easily gives way to a seismic avalanche of rationalizations like those that led our latest attorney general to say he needs to do research on whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture. While he's at it, Mr. Mukasey might also wish to look into whether or not the destruction of videotapes, which were ordered preserved as part of an investigation, constitutes obstruction of justice.

In the end, what happened in Pakistan yesterday was no more just about Pakistan than the assassination of Martin Luther King was about the civil rights movement. Advances in technology affirm that the planet is one vast community. The brutal killing of a leader 9,000 miles away is now as close as if it were right next door. We need a new contract for America, one that restores dignity to working men and women, that provides opportunity for the disenfranchised; one that ensures that telecommunication giants and sitting presidents are no more immune from criminal prosecution than ordinary citizens, and that no executive ever again gets to subordinate other branches of government, as we have seen over the past several years, in defiance of the Constitution.

When any world power gets to detain people, whether they be U.S. citizens or not, indefinitely without charge, and without access to evidence against them, then try them before kangaroo military courts, they insult the integrity not just of their nation, but of civilization as a whole, and they may claim the moral high ground only if they suffer from positional vertigo.

In the past thirty years, the concept of downsizing has taken off. Ronald Reagan ushered in the era of economic downsizing from which we're still reeling, and with George W. Bush comes moral downsizing for which there can be only one remedy, the same remedy Woodrow Wilson sought -- collective action on the part of all nations to combat abuse of power, the proliferation of lies, and an end to war profiteering in the name of democratization.

The best way to honor Benazir Bhutto's life, and the lives of all those world leaders who have been assassinated, is to reclaim the moral high ground by getting at the truth, no matter where it leads, and not hiding behind the "facade of democracy."